The World is a Provocative Place

Hello from Richmond,

I would like to take credit for the title, but it is something I heard someone say on NPR the other day, and it stuck with me. I think what causes me pause is to ask a question of whether one could always make such an argument or whether the degree to which we find it provocative has gotten more significant. What is provocative? What causes something or someone to be so? Generally, I believe that most of the time we have a tendency to use provocative in a sensual manner and there is a certain deliberative nature to the actions of a person. A second definition of provocative has to do with a specific irritation, a degree of exasperation, an annoyance, being incendiary, offensive or insulting. In our current national/international situation, it seems not only are these adjectives appropriate, but the initial definition of the deliberative nature of being such seems also apropos.

What causes all of this is about much more than a person, a position (generally of power), or a sort of posturing. In my opinion, it is much more about seeing beyond oneself and believing and practicing basic civility and manners. I am generally appalled by the increased lack of decorum of people in general. Let me offer some basic, and perhaps seeming mundane or minuscule examples of this. Seldom a day goes by that I do not open a door and someone is coming out the side opposite of what I was taught growing up to walk in or out of. The same can be said for walking down a sidewalk. A couple of summers ago, I was walking toward a group of five or six students. They were all on their phones and covered the width of the sidewalk. I moved as far to the right as I could and to move farther would have put me into bushes or scrubs and I merely stood there. The young man was about 6 inches from running into when he looked up. I merely looked at him and said nothing. As he stepped around me, he muttered, “Get the fuck out of the way.” At that point, I turned around an told him to stop. I will admit, my response was a bit sharp, but that had crossed a line I was not willing to accept. I would have never even considered speaking to an older individual in that manner, and even now, when I speak to my former professors, I address them still as Dr. Nielsen or Dr. Jorgensen. To do less would be disrespectful in my understanding of who they are and the honor they deserve. I remember as a child I was never allowed (and specifically taught not) to use the first name of an adult person. There were some individual adults in my church who specifically as our youth group members to call them by their first name, but I remember even with permission it felt inappropriate and I was never completely comfortable.

I certainly do not have an answer that can provide a reason for such a change, but I believe whatever the reason(s), it is (they are) complex and diverse. Much of it has to do with what we have be willing to accept or allow. In addition, I believe our ability to communicate in a plethora of ways and in a manner that seems to informal or person has erased the gap of public and personal in a way that feeds into this lack of professionalism that also eclipses our ability to use appropriate language, actions, or responses across the spectrum. I also believe it is caused by the examples so many young people see from the adults around them. When parents are charged with assault or worse at a little league game or a hockey game because they get angry, what do their sons and daughters see and what are they to think? When our legislators (at any level) use language, find themselves arrested, or engage in conduct that is considered generally outside the realm of decency, what are people to think about those who create our policies and laws? When multiple members of the cabinet, the West Wing, and the President himself can use names, language and behavior that many (and that is from both sides of the aisle or the political spectrum) consider below the office or position one holds, what are young people to think about what is acceptable. I am not willing to accept the adage that he is merely saying what we think. This past week at the morning breakfast where I meet with a number of other veterans, it is apparent that I am more liberal than most of them. I made a comment about Scandinavian countries that fired-up on of the others at the table. I could have got defensive and argued as passionately as he spoke out against what I said, but I decided it was probably better to step back and listen before I responded. While we did not and do not agree on most things, I still respect him and his opinion and will continue to do so. He is also a veteran and a Bloomsburg area native. I can understand why he holds some of the views he does. I can appreciate the passion with which he holds some of those views, but I can still disagree and get along with him.

Even when he asserted that college professors are a bunch of liberals ruining the country, I did respond and say that bunching all professors into one basket was a bit unfair and I spoke about some of the things I do in class. I did it in a respectful manner, but also in a way that argued that stereotyping or grouping all into a single basket was a dangerous and unfair thing to do. We did end up discussing, with a couple others chipping in, but they had to admit that such a position or statement was both unfair and not helpful. It reminded me once again that I live in an area that is both conservative and not that supportive of the place I work, which of course, is ironic because without the university there would be very little reason for the town of Bloomsburg to be what it is. Most of the manufacturing that was once part of the fabric of the town is no longer viable and without the university or Geisinger, there would be no real major employers. The reason I note this event at breakfast is it could have easily become a sort of heated debate or argument that would have accomplished little. The consequence would be that I have little to say to that person after that and there would be an estrangement and a difficulty that would create problems for some of the other people there. In another case, I was speaking with a former parishioner, someone I have know for 30 years. When they brought up their daughter, I noted that was not really speaking with them and the reason. I could have (and perhaps should have) not mentioned the reason for that lack of communication, but instead, I was both honest and yet kind about the situation. Long story short, later that day I got a text and an admonishment that I had embarrassed them and they no longer wanted to speak to me. I merely apologized and noted that I understood. I erased the text and will probably never speak to them again. I am okay with that. It is not my fault that a person did not do what they were supposed to do.

I have had to learn a number of lessons the hard way, but that seems to be more to norm than the exception for me. Those of you, who have known me for a significant period of time, are probably shaking your heads and nodding in the affirmative. On the other hand, I am learning, albeit slowly. There is something that needs to be acknowledged when my bank branch president makes me promise to not help other out anymore. Of course, that is a topic for another time. I am really quite blessed that is what I know and I have tried to be a blessing to others because that is what I was taught. That gets me back to where I started this post. What are we teaching? What happened to parents teaching manners, honesty, respect (ironic as I write this that Aretha Franklin passed away today) and also making sure that their offspring practice it? I knew this growing up: if I got in trouble at school or in town when I grew up, I was in trouble when I got home. That was the way it went. My parents were not going to call and ream someone else out for my misbehavior. If any call was made, it would have been to thank that person for letting them know. I was quite sure my mother had paid spies in the neighborhood, at church, and at school to work as informants. I also was quite sure she had eyes in the back of her head when I was little. So, back to my question: what makes things provocative or annoying, incendiary, and simply offensive? We have lost our manners. We have lost the ability to disagree, but remain civil. We have allowed our sons and daughters, our colleagues, and our government to treat each other with such disrespect and disdain that we have forgotten the things we are taught shortly after we learn to speak. Did you say please? Did you say thank you? While I am aware that it goes much further than that, it is as basic as that. Can you think before you speak? Can you use decency and thoughtfulness in whatever it is that you feel compelled to say? Can we be respectful of the other and lose some of our self-centered attitudes that seem to permeate every corner of our society? Why is it when there is a disaster or some horrendous event we find a way to come together and offer a sense of care and concern, but a great deal of the remainder of our lives we too often fail to give even a second thought to the consequences of what we say or do? It is only when we face a consequence for our actions, but then too often we want to blame rather than take accountability for our part of the problem. It seems that the discord and disrespect I find in the daily paper is now the norm rather than the exception. I believe we need to step back and reconsider. From Washington to my neighborhood, from my colleagues and friends to myself. We all have a duty to change this destructive path we seem to be on.

There is no democracy without respect; there is no civil society without honor and decency. It is time to be something besides provocative. And in respect to the Queen of Soul, I offer this.

Thank you as always for reading.

Michael (a single person, and yes a professor, but that makes me no better or worse than the other. Finally formerly a Lutheran pastor, but I never deserved a pedestal and wish I could have done even better than I did).

The Fundamentals of College (and Life)

 Hello from my office,

We are back to the last week of classes and the finals the week following. This semester has gone much more rapidly (at least it seems to be the case) than any other semester since I first taught the fall of 1992. It has hard to believe that I have been doing this for this long a period of time. Today is the last day of the semester, so yet again it is a couple days since I began this post. Today I met with a student, who like many first year students, the shock of the elevation of expectations and the lack of preparedness from high school is much greater than ever imagined. It is not just that lack of preparedness that concerns me, it is the fundamental lack of critical thinking and the lack of study skills that shocks me. I asked the student about their studying and if they believed everything they had done should have prepared them. They said, yes, but barely passed an exam, twice. When I asked where the problem might be, they could not come up with an answer. In addition, they were somewhat content with where they stood. I understand to some extent the response, “it is what it is.” What I am not sure of is if they were trying to merely move forward, or they had somewhat given up, or they just did not even care. I am hoping it is the middle choice, but I am honestly not sure.

I must also say I do not put the entire weight of this on the student’s shoulders. They certainly have some responsibility, but our system, both public K12 and now the university must bear some of the fault. I see so many freshman under prepared. In this particular group of summer students, we structure them to the maximum in the summer and naively believe they have learned to manage their time and academic demands in six weeks. So in the fall they are left to their own to try to figure it out. Many of them fail miserably. The consequence is academic probation, a grade point they might never recover from, and a sense of disillusionment, where once they believed in a dream of moving beyond where they come from. Of my 22 summer students, it will be interesting to see how they have done. The seven or eight I am continuing to mentor show an overwhelming sense of struggle. Only one is where I think they should be. I wish there was an easy answer to this issue, but there isn’t. It would take a number of systemic changes. Yet, I guess if a couple figure it out there is some sense of achievement or success. It is my idealism wanting everyone to figure it out.

Since starting this post, another shooting, another connection to ISIS/ISIL, another reason to wonder what had happened. Again there is no easy answer and whoever becomes the next president (and I hope it is almost anyone but Trump-well not quite) will have a significant problem on their hands. When I first heard reports of the shooting and got names, the Arabic nature of the names automatically had me wondering. That reaction demonstrates the consequence of 911 and the incidences since then. How is this different from what happened to the Jews in Germany or the Japanese in the United States post-Pearl Harbor? It isn’t and I am mortified that I am in this position. I have Muslim students, one in particular who is like my own child, who are normal,  hard working, and would never want such terror to befall their neighbors and friends. How did one faith that was basically built on prayer and giving become so violent for a particular element of the followers of Muhammad? I do not see a call for violence in their five pillars of faith.  Of course, the same can be said for many who proclaim the Christian faith for whom the golden rule is a fundamental tenet, but certainly do not demonstrate such behavior and treat those who are either different or believe differently with such disdain or hatred.

While I did not experience either of those extremes anytime lately, it is always interesting for me to see how so many are so kind or close when they need something, but otherwise they act quite differently. Students are so predictable. It amuses me on one hand and saddens me on the other. The end of the semester panic (or acceptance) that their poor choices for 14 weeks cannot be fixed by extra credit, tears, or avoidance. The belief that it is just something to do over when they have simply thrown away 1000s of dollars. Part of it is immaturity. Part of it is learned selfishness. Part of it is our willingness in our public schools to give something for nothing. Merely show up, stay out of trouble, and turn in something and you can have an A or B. I am witnessing the consequence every semester. That is not to say there are not strong or smart hard working students, but the overwhelming belief that I should go to college merely because I should is misguided. Not everyone should go straight out of high school. Perhaps most shouldn’t. All I know is the fundamentals of discipline and priorities, which are necessary to succeed in college are not fundamental to many of my students. The consequences are consequential: difficulty in finding a job and significant debt for a piece of paper that guarantees nothing.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Diversions, Dastardly Deeds, and Directions

Hello from another airport,

I can honestly say in 40 years of flying I had never had a pressurization issue in an airplane. That streak as now ended. We could not reach cruising attitude and they had to divert the plane. The most important thing is they managed the issue professionally and calmly, and while there is some inconvenience, we are all safe and sound. There is so little we actually have control of when we fly. Yet, most of us hop on the plane, walking down that jetway without a second thought. I have probably flown somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 in my life. I have only had two issues: this one and way back when I was only 18 and a tire blew out on landing. That was actually more frightening than today was for me. So now I am in a cab and they are actually taking us to another airport. I think I will be writing American Airlines a very long letter. I know that flying is still more efficient than other modes of travel, but my experience with American and its partners over the past two weeks has been anything but stellar.

As I sat in the various airports today, the continued unfolding of events around Paris and throughout France are mind-blowing to me. How does someone created such hatred within himself or herself that they deem it appropriate to kill another person because their opinions differ? I believe in principle, but how does that principle, or adherence to a particular set of beliefs, create the justification to kill another? I find this particularly egregious when we use our faith in any God or prophet as the rationale for such heinous actions. First, let me note that America has engaged in such behavior, both in the Civil War and in the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII, so we are not blameless. Furthermore, while I do believe in the importance of national security, some of our actions post-911 are currently problematic for me. I don’t care what Former Vice President Cheney says. I was speaking with Marco yesterday – it is now Monday, by the way – and we discussed the various manners in which countries seem to respond to actions such as what occurred in Paris, Boston, or other places. The manner in which governments are responding to terrorists incidences seems to be more strident. BTW, if you have not read Fareed Zakaria’s blog over the weekend, it is an outstanding read.

Having been in Auschwitz barely a week ago, there is little doubt in my mind the extreme consequence of the espousal of hate can be. As I am sitting and listening to NPR this morning a story about another form of human bombing was noted. In Nigeria, the terrorist organization had begun using adolescent girls as bombers. How do you convince a 10 year old that such an action is reasonable, acceptable, or appropriate. I find it incomprehensible that a 10 year old can develop such hate for another culture or group of people. I have written so much about our difference in cultures and how those cultures affect both our identity and our practices. Certainly there are times the difference in culture has to do with daily practice; sometimes those differences have to do with language and how we use words differently. I am pondering some of that even as I write this. My travels during this break and my experience with Lydia and language has once again reminded me how language can open doors, but it can also create barriers. As I sit here in a Starbucks drinking hot tea and trying to overcome what I have found is double pneumonia, I have been working on syllabi all morning,  but I have also been pondering what this coming semester will hold for me. Lydia’s presence in my life had more value than most might imagine. Taking care of her and making sure she was cared for in an appropriate manner was a significant part of who I had become. Lydia taught me important things. As I have noted in some previous blogs, she became my mother, and while she was a tough person at times, she had an incredible heart and a goodness to her. At some point, I will write a blog posting about the 10 years I have known her and how she has changed both my life and my perspective on life. She was the victim of, and experienced on a first-hand basis, some of the dastardly deeds that I noted in my title. The fact that her husband was a political prisoner of the Reich is one thing. The fact that she lost members of her immediate family because of the post-Czech issues of the Second World War, it is easier for me to understand why someone could grow to so dislike another that they might actually hate them. Lydia would use that work in her comments toward the Czechs, but her way of managing that extreme emotion was to eliminate them from her existence. I do not think she every again spoke Czech  in her lifetime. Is she entitled to such emotion? That is not an easy question. Are we entitled to either love or hate another? There is not entitlement. There is only our human response to our experiences. It seems the more extreme, or more affected we are by the experience, but more likely that experience will be grafted into our DNA if you will. While I am aware of what happened to Lydia’s parents, it is not something she spoke of often. In fact, she only told me of it once, and that was when we were standing in her room at Comforts of Home.

It is Wednesday of the last week of break and I have actually slept for more than 12 hours in three of the last five days. That is the most I have slept in years, but on the other hand, I think this is the worst I have felt since last spring at the end of school. While I am not generally one to jump on the Alka Seltzer or other sort of cold and flu bandwagon, I do not think I had a choice this time. I do not have time beginning next week to be sick. The last two nights I was in bed before 8:00 p.m. Last night it might have been barely 7:00. I am pretty sure that the travel schedule, which I am realizing had more wear and tear in it than I expected as well as the time I spent in Menomonie, took its toll on a body that already has its own issues. I can honestly say I do not think I have felt this badly since I had to go back into the hospital a little over two years ago because of surgical complications.

It is now Thursday early morning and my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., and even though I went to bed before 8:00 again last night I fix it sleep very well. I think the largest period of continuous sleep I got before the alarm going off, which I was awake to hear, was maybe an hour. The fog was ridiculous this morning. While I had hoped to get more work done, that did not happen. Even as I sit here on the flight this morning, waiting to depart, I am sweating. With only a t-shirt and sport coat, I feel like I am in a sauna. I guess my body is fighting to the best of its ability. It is amazing mechanism in spite of its current frailties.

As I begin a new semester and a life altered because of the events this past month, I find it necessary to imagine what it is I am called to do and how I will prioritize all I do. I think last year might be seen as an experiment – one with mixed results, but one nonetheless I am glad I tried or one in which I participated. It is also one that I can put away as I have put away other things in the past. I am realizing that I am perhaps more like Lydia than I might have imagined. While I might not be as reclusive and, in the past, I have not knowingly pushed people away as a practice, what I am realizing more clearly is I have too often believed the best in others, leaving myself open to hurt and disappointment. I believed I needed others in my life more significantly than I perhaps do. I will be much more discerning than I have had a penchant for doing. I can only ask as the liturgy notes “Kyrie, Eleison”. It is the name of a Mister Mister song and the only part of the liturgy that remained in Greek rather than moving to Latin. For those not sure of the meaning, it means “Lord, have mercy.” I know there will be things to manage in the coming weeks, in Pennsylvania, both at school and on the home front. There are significant things to manage between Wisconsin, North Carolina, Naperville, and Northern Minnesota. I will work my best to manage as I believe Lydia would have wanted. Ultimately, it is about her desires not what everyone else thinks. I am so grateful for the staff of Comforts of Home. They continue to work with me and help plan things. I did get some of the initial pieces completed this week and I need to work with the monument company this week. One piece at a time. That is moving in a direction and that is what life is about. Moving forward and managing what life throws at you. Lessons experienced and lessons learned are simply what life is. Well, I think I might try to close my eyes and beat my present fever.

Thanks as always for reading my thoughts.

Michael

Meine Mutter

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Hello from Kraków and my little apartment,

It is about 1:30 a.m. and while I was originally in bed before 9:00, I have awakened and decided to write something if I going to lay here awake. It has been almost 24 hours since I got Nate’s initial text telling me that Lydia’s unbelievably strong battle to hold on to her life had finally ended. Over the previous 24 hours I had told people here she might wait him out also. She went 12 days without eating and I think she probably drank less than 10 ounces of water during that time. In that time either Nate, Carissa, a staff member of COH or I was with her. The smiles she gave and the hugs or pats on the head she doled out as those of us who watched her (probably not a single person could see her and not have tears at some point) was, and is, quite phenomenal. As I sat in her room (she is the only person to have occupied that room up until now) at the end of the hall, she seemed to let each person somehow see that incredible heart she possessed. She seemed, while never completely losing her ability to illustrate what she wanted or did not want, to try to genuinely show each and every person that she was grateful for the care they were providing.

I should note something about that care and all the wonderful people who have offered their care to Lydia during the last 3 1/2 years. First, they are not paid nearly enough for the extreme circumstances and difficult positions they endure each day. There are some incredible caregivers who try to help these men and women maintain their dignity as their minds disappear and their lives regress into the abyss of nothingness. When Lydia was first at COH, those individuals who were already where she would eventually be, petrified her. The actions of people, those who were once hard working and blessed with extraordinary intelligence, is unpredictable and often outlandish. They can be both physically and verbally abusive and that takes an emotional toll on the caregiver. Yet, I have observed first-hand care that was second to none from some of these employees. Yes, they are employed, but they are so much more than an employee of this company that has dozens of these facilities. There are individuals who are angels in human- form. As Lydia was blessed by their care and compassion, I too have received the precious gift of their love and concern. I would try when I was back to get them something from Caribou (the Midwest Starbucks for those unfamiliar) or I would fix dinner for everyone as a small token of my appreciation for all they did. While I do not want to point out any particular people, I did note during my recent visit that the present staff was probably the best overall staff I experienced during the entire time I had been coming to COH. I also know that such a staff is only possible when they are phenomenal people to begin with and the particular building management supports them in their care. I am grateful to those who are there full-time also. The atmosphere of genuine decency and expected respect for both the residents and family was so apparent. The corporate office in Minnesota is richly blessed to have the administrator, nurse, and activities person they do in Menomonie. In my opinion, they probably do not realize how fortunate they are. The individual acts of care and kindness you have given to Lydia and me will never be forgotten.

It has been a day of relief on one hand and tears on the other. I understand this dichotomous response and am willing to just let it happen. I do struggle with the fact that I handed off the physical presence of being in Room 23 to Nathan and I am grateful to him for choosing to come back even when I said it was probably okay to let her go because I think it is what she wanted. I do believe she held out much longer than anyone believed either humanly or medically possible because she did not want me ( or perhaps anyone) to be there. I am grateful that Carissa came in on a New Year’s Day and spent three hours on her day off with her. Lydia came to love Carissa and it was evident in the way Lydia looked at her and by the way Lydia’s entire affect changed when Carissa would come near. What I know for sure in my heart is that Lydia came to trust the people at COH and for that to happen, it took amazing individuals doing miraculous things. More importantly, you can be sure those who provide that outstanding care do it because they are outstanding in their own right because none of them are, nor could they be, paid enough. That being said, they should certainly be compensated much better than they are. I have learned much about elder care and, in particular, care for the memory impaired.

It is now Saturday morning and I did hear from Nate on some things and he did seem to get the immediate things that needed to be managed yesterday done. It is interesting to me that his need to be in Menomonie in the future and my need will now be quite different. He will have significant issues to manage there and I will not. Theresa and he will have substantive interest in Park Circle now and I will not. That is not to say that I will not go back, but I will no longer have a place to stay and in the next weeks I will have to probably go back and clean out my things from the Upper Sanctum and collect all the books and things that have been there since I left Menomonie. I know that what will happen in the next weeks is a process, but Lydia was amazing and she had it all figured out. I am fortunate to still have some amazing friends and former colleagues there, so there are ways that Menomonie will always have a sense of place for me or feel like home. However, the main reason that I have gone back in the past 5 1/2 years is now a guardian angel for me and someone who has profoundly changed my life.

I cannot get the image and the experience out of my head of the moment that last night when I told her I loved her and she had become my mother, the parent I no longer had and she simply whispered, “I know.” As I moved down the hall from her room, I cried and trembled as I tried to walk away from this person. I remember Lexie and Brianna both tearing up and hugging me as I got to the common room. I think as I reflect on my own year of attempting to be a parent, for better or worse, perhaps most of what I know of parenting actually came from Lydia. I am not sure I realized that until just now. That might be something to ponder in another post. As I type this, again the sun is out and shining brightly into my windows, though if it is like that past couple days, it is fleeting. I guess that is apropos at this point. The fleeting nature of our experiences and what they offer to our lives is something to be considered. I have known for a long time that Lydia would come to this day and I would have to figure out how to manage it. It is life and I do not mean that in either a cliché or an uncaring way. Life is profound; it is a gift, but one that often burdens us or one we might too often take for granted. In the past days as people have reached out, I am once again shown how blessed I am. Those who took the time to send their words through text, FB, Whatsapp, or even phone calls have done so much to support me. I am grateful for those who have taken time to connect in whatever small way they have (they are not small).

It is now the evening of the 3rd and I am back in my little abode. I enjoy this little studio apartment and I appreciate the solitude. Today I was actually on my own as Robert dropped me off at the Wieliczka Kopalni Soli (The Wieliczka Salt Mine) to tour it. This mine is gargantuan (and that is an understatement). It has 9 levels, but we only saw three. It no longer mines salt, but still produces 150,000 tons through desalination. The tour was almost three hours long (if you want to see pictures and follow me on Facebook, I have posted some there).  The picture at the top of this post is of Pope John Paul II and is carved entirely from salt. It was created in 1999. The mine has been in operation for hundreds of years and during WWII the Nazis actually moved a factory into the mine. Some of the salt pockets that have been mined are almost a hundred meters deep and the length and the width of the some of the rooms are astounding. There is a huge chapel (there are actually 20 of them throughout the mine’s rooms and tunnels) and three men carved some of the most amazing Biblical scenes into the walls. The floors, the ceilings, the walls, everything is made of salt. It is not really describable through words. Over a half million people visit it a year, and there is no doubt in my mind why. I think it ranks up with the Seven Wonders of the World. This is my fourth time to Europe and I have seen beautiful and stunning things, but I think the last two days are right at the top of the list for beauty and awe.

As noted, I am back in my room and I want to work on my syllabi for a moment and some other reading, but I cannot stop thinking about Lydia and coming to grips with the reality that she is no long present in my life in a physical form. I understand death, both from losing family members and as a former pastor, but this passing has hit me probably like the loss of my grandmother did. While I am keeping busy, there were three times today that my eyes welled up in tears and I did not even realize I was thinking about, or emoting because of, her. Last night when I tried to read to Robert and Katarzyna what I had written about her, I began to cry. Again, what I realize is I have lost yet another parent. Perhaps it is because she is, was, and will be, the best mother I have had. If you have read my blog during the past year (again see Wondering What She Really Thinks) you know that I have struggled with those maternal relationships. What I know about Lydia is that she could really get to me in a number of ways and produce a myriad of emotions, but when it was all pushed down to the basics, I think I loved her more than anyone, with the exception of my grandmother. I think I might have even loved her more than my adopted father, and that is saying something pretty profound. Is it because I am older and I understand the frailty of life more poignantly? Is it because she so affected my life in the last 10 years? Is it because we realized what we both gave and received from the other? I think it is some of all of these things. While my biological mother is still alive, I have no desire to reach out to her and that is for a number of reasons. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but I think other experiences have taught me that I do not need to make everyone happy, and there are some I do not need in my life. In fact, it has been a hard lesson, but what I am realizing is there is no promise from anyone that he or she will remain in your life. While I do not mean this to be selfish in anyway, it has become abundantly clear to me that believing in the one’s self might be the only guarantee we have, and not even that is sure because sometimes we can be pretty flaky, even to ourselves.

What I know as I am going to call it a night in Poland (tomorrow is my last complete day here), I have lost yet another special and incredible person. While she owed me nothing, she has offered and given me much. While she was could be aloof, she was as down to earth as anyone I have ever met. While she might have appeared to many as hard or unapproachable, she welcomed me and loved me as few ever have. While she had no children, sie wurde die Mutter, die ich nicht hatte, und ich werde geehrt und demütigt, um einfach und liebevoll zu ihr zu sagen: ‘Lydia, ich liebe dich und du bist immer meine Mutter sein.’

As always, thanks for reading. When I post again, I will probably be back in the states.

Michael

Respect is Fundamental

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Hello from back in Pennsylvania,

Yesterday was a long day (it is now Tuesday morning and I am washing bedding for the second time in two days) but those are my Monday’s. While I did get a number of things covered, there yet feels like there is more to do than I seem to have the energy or strength to do and this frustrates me beyond measure. I am hoping to be caught up with my grading before heading off to Virginia. I wanted to go there on Friday night, and if I can get some coverage on Saturday for something, I will leave then; otherwise, it will be Saturday. I promised a former student I would come to see them at some point and if I do not get that done pretty soon, traveling will be much more arduous and it is not my preference to wait until Spring. I had two students stop by today and share with me how important I had been in their tenure here at students and then I had a Communication Studies student send me a very appreciative email and ask me to present to their Communication ​Day. He wrote, “On another note, I have always had a lot of respect for you not only as a professor, but as a person. It was you who I met with before anyone else when I wanted to change my major/minor. I think of you as an extremely knowledgeable and brilliant person. . . . Despite my major being Communications and all of the professors I have been in contact with, I have considered you to be my most influential professor throughout my two years of being your student.” I am humbled by such words. Of course, not every student considers me in such a way. It is a small campus and things travel. Another student, one I know first hand to be capable in so many ways, when asked about me in the last days, by a mutual acquaintance, responded with the exclamatory remark (loud enough for others to hear), “F&$@%#, Dr. Martin.” ~ probably not the first time a one syllable word has been attached to my name, and perhaps not the last time, but this particular incident illustrates so much more. The sad part is that I heard about it from more than one person. It provided yet another piece of evidence of just how far things can move from one place to another. As I thought about it more carefully, I realized it is not a problem for me. it actually reflects more unfavorably on this particular student, especially because many of the people who heard it know the bigger story. Perhaps, I could be benevolent and say it was the altered state the person was in, yet again, that allowed for such blatant disrespect, but that would be but an excuse and give the person yet another out. Something that is typical of him or her. A person is who he or she is regardless their intake of something used or taken. That altered position merely lowers their ability to filter what they would do anyway, regardless their state.What that means, more importantly, is I am not feeling particularly benevolent in this situation.

What is sadder is I too know the bigger story and as I noted in my last blog, each person succeeds, or falls (even literally fails), on their own terms. There are two things that are fundamental to who I am. If you want to see me upset, merely be disrespectful or dishonest. In addition, if you are lacking basic honesty, you lie about foolish things or lie period, and if you are disrespectful, I will probably decide to steer clear. If those things are lacking, for whatever reason, be it a basic flaw in their character or simply a phase, my desire to work with that individual is severely lessened. While I am eternally grateful in this case for some things, what has happened as of late has done a great deal of damage to any chance that I might trust in the future. However, that is not something over which I have or need to take control. This is one of the things I am learning to do, and though it is a hard lesson for me, it is a valuable one. Letting go is not characteristic of who I am because I see it as quitting, or at least I have in the past. In this case, it is necessary; it is healthy, for both parties, but sometimes I am such a slow learner. I was warned from the outset, but I did not listen. Again, my believing I could fix it. Learning sometimes is painful. Yet, I will never close the door on a person completely, but if they shut it, they will need to re-open it. That is a difference in me at this point. Again, it has been a painful lesson, but one that is indelibly imprinted at this time.

While I must admit I have not always been as respectful as I could, as I have aged, I have come to value it more and more. Whether it is to act with dignity or some sense of decorum myself or in how I treat others, it is something that was instilled in me early. I wrote about much earlier in this blog in a post about “being a gentleman”. I remember when I was an academic advisor to the Greek system at a previous institution. One particular fraternity had a horrendous reputation because of the way they treated women. I spoke with them at a meeting and told them if I had a daughter I would not allow her anywhere near their house. They argued that it was not all of them. I noted that it would take all of them to change that reputation and that it would take years to repair the damage those few had created. Reputations are so hard to build and so easy to lose. I know this from earlier in my life and mistakes I made. Sadly it didn’t matter what my intentions were; what created the image or the reputation was what people thought. Even if their thoughts were inaccurate, the damage had been done. Much more than people realize this is something I consider all  the time. It is why I do not go into certain establishments in this town. The damage to my reputation, the respect I would lose, from my students and my colleagues is not worth the chance. It’s sad that wisdom comes so late in life.

That being said, I know I’m not perfect. In fact, I am far from it. Someone with whom I’ve recently reacquainted has told me too many times “I’m too good to be true.” I have worked to dissuade them of such an opinion. Such a belief sets me up for nothing but failure. Is actually impossible to live up to what they have created in their mind. And as I often tell people I need no help in getting in trouble. In this case, I think is because they’ve been treated so poorly that being treated with any ounce of kindness seems amazing. That too is sad. After being treated so disrespectfully, it seems that it is impossible for him or her to have respect for their own person. It takes a long time to undo such damage, but it must start from the inside. One must believe that he or she is worth respect because every person is. In fact the person who acts with disrespect toward another has no respect for himself or herself. Or perhaps more likely what they deem as respect for themselves is really foolish pride. Perhaps that is the reason for that well-known saying “pride goeth before the fall.” While I would never wish for someone to fall or be hurt, sometimes it is the only option. While deep down I guess I’ve always known this, it is hearing another person’s “story”, their narrative, and watching the continued move forward from a pretty extreme flirting with an abyss, that it has been crystallized for me. That has been one of the important learning moments for me during this past year or so.

To respect one’s self, yes, even to have a sense of pride, is fundamental to who we are and it is necessary for any hope we might have of being successful or being content and happy. Perhaps that is why I am where I am in my life. It is been a long and arduous road to get to this place. It is why am making some of the changes I am making. It is as I stare at my own sense of the abyss. It is my desire to be content, to be happy. For me, part of that is in respecting others and being respected in return. The simple statement from a student to says he respects me and he’s learned from me or that I made a difference, that is the ultimate statement of respect. I am blessed and humbled to hear such things. To each of those who I’ve mentored or made some small difference, thank you for letting me be part of your life. Whether you are in my life now or in the past, you matter. It is now 5:00 a.m.; sheets are washed, bed is made. Now I can go back to sleep for an hour or two.

To the others, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin